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“Simeon’s and Anna’s Joy” - Sermon 12/31/2017

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sermon Text: Luke 2: 22-40

I belong to a subset of people known as: GRANDPARENTS. Not only does my age and my normally gray hair place me in this subset but also the fact that I have one grandchild—a 13 year old boy named Caiden---likely to be my only grandchild. Parenthood is one experience of life; grandparenthood is quite another. With Simeon and Anna, we aren’t told whether they are grandparents. But we get the sense that they may be.

Parents and especially in Joseph’s and Mary’s case, are prone to see their child from the “close to the heart” view---we’ve given birth---we raise the child---we help the child become who he/she is meant to be but sometimes that ideal becomes more the parent’s than the child’s. The grandparents, as in Simeon’s and Anna’s case, though not grandparents by blood, yet desired to see the Lord’s Christ and were granted the blessing by God to do so, they see from their years of wisdom and experience, the child from the wider perspective, the child’s true future not overshadowed by parental desire and parental closeness.

Just for general knowledge and appreciation, National Grandparents Day has been celebrated in the U.S. and the U.K. since 1978 and is officially recognized in a number of other countries. The date in 2018 will be September 9th. Marian McQuade of Oak Hill, West Virginia, has been nationally recognized by the U.S. Senate and President Jimmy Carter, as the founder of National Grandparents Day. She made it her goal to educate the youth in the community about the important contributions seniors have made throughout history. She also urged the youth to “adopt” a grandparent not just for a year but for a lifetime. The statute cites the day’s purpose: “to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help children become aware of the strength, information, and guidance older people can offer.” Yay for us seniors!
Now, let’s look at the story from Luke 2. Why were Mary and Joseph there with the child Jesus? There are three separate ceremonies going on here: the purification of a woman forty days after the birth of a child, the presentation of the firstborn to God, and the dedication of the firstborn to the Lord’s service.

The rite of purification involved the offering of a burnt sacrifice and sin offering. The mention of turtledoves indicates that Joseph and Mary utilized the offering of the poor although even the middle classes would make such a sacrifice of turtledoves. One commentator points out that the text refers to “their” sacrifice. Normally, this would be Mary’s alone; however, Joseph undoubtedly helped in Mary’s delivery and so he was rendered unclean and needed to make a sacrifice for himself as well.

As Joseph and Mary proceed in doing what was required at the temple, they meet a pious old man, Simeon, either in the court of the Gentiles or the court of women (since Mary is present). We are not told Simeon’s vocation. All we know is that he is “righteous and devout”. Among the righteous of the Old Testament, (the word DIKAIOS referred to Job and many of the prophets. The word EULABES for “devout” was used in Greek culture for statesmen. Philo used this word to describe Abraham. While the shepherds represented the average person, Simeon represents the wise elder who has walked with God.

Simeon was “looking forward to the consolation of Israel”. The Holy Spirit was a force in his life and the Spirit had promised that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. When Mary and Joseph showed up to present Jesus, Simeon took the child in his arms and prayed: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

One commentator says of Simeon: “We sense the satisfaction of a promise fulfilled. A life lived in hope has been vindicated. What’s especially moving is Simeon’s reference to the Gentiles. Here in the Jewish temple, in the midst of a Jewish rite, this devout Jew speaks of the Messiah enlightening the non-Jews of the world. He didn’t make this up. It comes straight out of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies. Then Simeon becomes a prophet himself, turning to Mary and saying: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  Prophecy of what will come because of Jesus’ ministry on earth.

Luke also presents Anna’s story. More than the other gospel writers, Luke includes the experience and testimony of women. Anna is only mentioned in this three verse section but we get a good picture of her. She has been a widow for a long time. Her husband had died after only seven years of marriage, and she never remarried. She was 84 when she saw Jesus in the temple, so we can guess she had lived six decades as a widow. She’s identified as “the daughter of Phanuel” which might indicate that she went back to live with her parents once her husband died. It also says she “never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” We might assume that after her parents died, she came under the care of the religious establishment---offerings of devout Jews went to support religious workers, foreigners, widows, and orphans. We aren’t told her exact words or the content of her praise. After seeing the baby Jesus, she began to “speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.” One commentator points out that Anna’s praise erupted “in excited evangelism”. Spreading the good news that the Messiah had come---that God is comforting his people as Isaiah prophesied.

In keeping with our Epiphany theme today, Epiphany actually being January 6th but we have another church celebration next Sunday, so Epiphany for us is celebrated early: Jesus is light, a theme already noted in Simeon’s remarks that recall Isaiah 60: 1-3 where the light of salvation comes with revelation and glory as the result. Jesus is light for all—a revelation to the Gentiles for they will be brought into blessing through his ministry--- and glory to Israel for through him they will perform their service of ministry to the world.

Here are some key thoughts from this passage according to one commentary:

1. Simeon shows how one can define life in terms of faithfully following God and serving him with joy and surrender. When his duty is done, he is ready to be with the Lord. Anna pictures the constancy of faith, revealing that even late in life God can use one in ministry.

2. Here are two people near the end of their life, still serving God full steam ahead. Contentment is not a matter of age or energy level, neither is it a function of accumulation. It is defined by an openness to serve God and to share him with others. Such a perspective calls for serious reflection.

3. In our culture, on the eve of a new year, we make resolutions. In the January 1995 issue of McCall’s magazine, the top four resolutions made were: 1) improve personal finances, 2) stop smoking, 3) lose weight, and 4) get more exercise. All of these are good goals. But none of them are the best of goals. Notice that neither family nor God makes any appearance in the top four? We tend to define contentment in a privatized way about how our personal lives are going. Since we set goals that have nothing to do with relationships, many of us find ourselves lonely and discontented, for God has created us to relate to him and to others.  If exercise is valuable for physical well-being, should we starve our inner being? Simeon suggests a better way: To know God is best. Simeon can be content even as he faces death knowing that he has been carrying out the Lord’s call. His goal is knowing God, with whom he will have a relationship forever. Contentment means knowing the source of life who can help us see even beyond our death.”

I’m going to end this message today with a reflection written by Helen Flexner: “As a child I was told that grandfather spent an hour every morning and evening listening to God. So when I came suddenly upon my grandfather one day seated motionless in his armchair with closed eyes, I knew he was not asleep. He was talking with God. I stopped short where I was and stood very still. Perhaps if I listened intently enough I might hear God’s voice speaking to my grandfather. But the room remained quiet, not even the faintest whisper reached my ears. After a long time my grandfather opened his eyes, saw me and smiled at me gently. These moments of intense listening for God’s voice in the room with my grandfather are among the most vivid memories of my early childhood.”

May this be a precious memory for our grandchildren of us and may this remind us just where our priorities should be as we move into the year 2018.